LETTER: Watertown Teachers Union Responds to Calls for Vaccination

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To the Members of the Watertown School Community,

School Committee Candidate Rachel Kay’s recent letter to the Watertown MA News regarding a requirement for Watertown teachers to be vaccinated was not surprising given the level of political discourse that has recently besieged our country.

In the letter, Ms. Kay is dismayed that there is not a vaccine mandate in place for teachers in the Watertown Public Schools. Her letter implies that the Watertown Educators Association and Watertown Public School District are opposed to a vaccine mandate. Ms.Kay appears to be uninformed regarding this matter. Had she inquired about a vaccine mandate by asking WEA leaders, School Committee members, or Superintendent Galdston, she would have learned that this matter is currently in negotiations.

It should also be noted that the administration and the WEA cannot discuss negotiations until an MOA is signed. Had Ms. Kay done the research, she would have learned that currently over 98% of WPS staff are vaccinated and that a recent survey conducted by the WEA states an overwhelming majority of our members are in favor of a vaccine requirement.

It is unfortunate that Ms. Kay did not reach out to anyone on the School Committee, anyone in Administration, or any leaders of the WEA with her concern before making unfounded and disparaging public statements.

The WEA remains committed to working collaboratively with the School Committee and Watertown School Administration to keep our students, staff, and school community as safe as is possible during this pandemic.

Deb King

President, Watertown Educators Association

12 thoughts on “LETTER: Watertown Teachers Union Responds to Calls for Vaccination

  1. It should be noted the for all the bluster and performative umbrage in this letter, it doesn’t actually agree to get all the teachers vaccinated. But sure, dragging out negotiations is worth putting students and the unions own members at additional risk. You do you.

    • Did you miss the part that states 98% of WPS staff are already vaccinated? It’s possible there are exemptions and a mandate wouldn’t change anything as far as the school year start. Also not being able to legally divulge matters of negotiations is not the same as dragging your feet.

  2. Can someone explain why it’s worth entering negotiation when majority of the educators were vaccinated? The political dismay began as soon as the negotiation started. It’s a concern of many parents, though took one parent to speak up, it’s a great reflection of Watertown Ed system in the past year. Teachers’ opinions superseded parents’ needs, and the teacher union leaders had no capacity to absorb any different voice. We need more voices, and weigh in different voices in our policy making process.

  3. Also Rachael Kay did attend the policy subcommittee meeting where this issue was discussed, as did I, and Dr. Galdston stated only 90% of staff were vaccinated and heavily implied that a mandate would not be forthcoming.

    So I don’t exactly think it’s Rachael Kay’s fault if the superintendent misinformed the public. And if she had asked WEA, would they really have just disclosed that info to a private citizen?

  4. I need to respond to this to correct the record.

    I never said the WEA or WPS administrators were against requiring vaccines for teachers. I simply said no such requirement had been put in place, but it should be. That was true when I wrote my letter and it remains true now, just days before the start of school.

    It is not accurate that I have not asked about this subject and it would be little effort to verify the truth. I have discussed this with the Superintendent and the School Committee multiple times, both via email and in public meetings.

    The truth is that despite being told for weeks that this is in negotiations, it has not happened. This delay has a cost as it puts off the date when our students and staff, especially the ones unable to be vaccinated, will be best protected by the adults around them. It is encouraging to learn that 98% of teachers are vaccinated, as myself and other parents have been asking about this. At the School Committee meeting last week, the most recent data the district was able to share was 80% from a survey in the spring. If all agree that a vaccine mandate is in the best interest of the children, then why has it not happened yet?

    If the President of the teacher’s union wants to attack me for advocating teachers be vaccinated, that is her right. It will not stop me from speaking out for what is best for the students of Watertown. If I am fortunate enough to be elected to the School Committee, my persistent focus will always be prioritizing the education and well-being of the students of Watertown.

    • Thank you for this response – you’re correct that the percentage shared in the committee meeting by our superintendent was 80% so I don’t understand the harsh response in this article when parents were never told of increased percentage. I think requesting a mandate is fair and other cities (like NYC) have already done so in advance of the first day of school – whereas we are too late. Again I appreciate hearing we are at 98% but I would like to better understand how this data was collected. I do not want to dismiss the sacrifices of our educators and am grateful for their effort the past 18mo but agree that asking for a mandate is a reasonable request.

  5. Unfortunately for the Teachers Union they lost a lot of credibility and respect with how they handled covid and school. Our schools should have been back open last September while the covid numbers were low but it was the Teachers Union that made that impossible creating a situation where students in Watertown are even more behind than ever. It’s no wonder that even more families have switched their kids to private over the past year, some even switching as late as 10th and 11th grade from the WHS to private. That really speaks volumes as to the confidence parents have in our schools.

    As for any SC candidate being endorsed by the Teachers Union, well for me that makes it very clear who I won’t vote for.

  6. If Deb King worked for a corporation, small or large business and responded to a colleague or client in this fashion she would no longer be employed. Sad she gets away with this degree of disrespect and snark. Especially sad that she leads a union of our children’s teachers.

  7. Deb King is either very out of touch with the issues at hand or she is fabricating information to suit her agenda.
    Facts are that Rachel Kay, and many other parents, have repeatedly asked about the staff vaccination rate, and if there was a mandatory vaccination being put in place. We were told by the Superintendent on 8/23 that the vaccination rate was only 80%. Prior to that, Lily Read (from the School Committee) was telling everyone the vaccination rate was 92%. When Lily Read was asked why the discrepancy – she replied to parents she would find out and get back to us.
    She never did.
    Why wasn’t this 98% vaccination rate never shared with the School Committee or the School Administration? Why are we finding out about it just now via a Letter to the Editor.
    Deb King states that Rachal Kay “did not reach out to anyone on the School Committee, anyone in Administration, or any leaders of the WEA with her concern.” This is a lie. Lily Read had responded to a number of parent inquiries on social media with this information, and parents have asked the Superintendent as well. Since she is the one reporting this “new” number, does she deserve to be believed?
    Ms King’s misstatements can only serve to undermine her creditability with the taxpayers, parents, school administration, and within her own union.

  8. I am confused by the union backlash regarding this mandate, especially how it’s somehow being conveyed as time sensitive. I think the fact that 98.8% (as stated by the superintendent as well) proves that the teachers are all in. A mandate will be nice, especially for future hires, but it would likely not change anything (or possibly a small fraction of a percentage) for the start of school tomorrow given that it’s entirely possible the 1.2% could have valid exemptions. The district is also mandating masks and weekly testing to account for those who are not vaccinated, since a large subset of students aren’t even eligible yet. Also, if anyone is making up info, it’s a few comments back when it was referenced that students are leaving the district and families have lost faith in the teachers. The latest superintendent’s email states we are back to well over pre-Covid enrollment, so nice try there. Lastly, the idea that the teachers dragged their feet to return last spring is a targeted attack. Watertown was one of MANY districts in a hybrid model last spring when the state required full in-person to resume. Did the union advocate for time at the start of the year to ensure that the buildings were safe and the protocols were in place? Yes, because they care about the health and safety of students and staff, many of whom were in old swing spaces with poor ventilation and awaiting air purifiers and other mitigation strategies to be properly planned. Plain and simple, what district leadership did last year was effective. Any candidate who claims they will always do what is right for the students by continuing to make a lot of noise about a mandate that won’t actually change anything is clearly just trying to enrage the small percentage of voters who are already angry. It also proves they’re more about a political statement than being concerned about the well-being of our children.

    • Just to clarify, my statement has already changed things: it got the administration to release the 98.8% figure, which was unknown at the time of my letter. At the time of my letter we only knew 80%. Knowing the true figure is a great relief to many parents, myself included.

  9. That figure would have been released in the same newsletter that Dr. Galdston put it in with or without that letter. She’s been including those metrics all along, ending last school year at 80% and starting this year with 98.8% (even higher than the 98% as noted in the response from the union). I agree that all your letter accomplished was cementing to the public just how angry you are with the school district.

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